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Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland. That is a pea-sized gland found just above the middle of your brain. It helps your body know when it is time to sleep and wake up. Melatonin production tends to drop as we age, which may be one reason why there is a higher insomnia rates among the elderly. A 2013 meta-analysis of over 18 studies found that melatonin did not lose its effectiveness with continued use.

Melatonin is most commonly used for insomnia and improving sleep in different conditions. For example, it is used for jet lag and for adjusting wake-sleep cycles in people whose daily work schedule changes.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has stated that 0.7% of all children within the U.S. have used melatonin at one point or another. It is most commonly administered to children who struggle with various types of sleep disturbances including night terrors and insomnia. Many parents that have children with disorders such as autism or ADHD also rely on melatonin to get their kids to sleep the full recommended length. The same study found that the percentage of adults who use it in the U.S. is almost double at 1.3%.

Melatonin has potent multifunctional biological and pharmacological effects including antioxidant, anticancer, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, anti-diabetic, immune-enhancing, cardiovascular protection, mood regulation, temperature control, antiviral, blood pressure regulation and neuroprotective activities. It also possesses the ability to modulate immune responses. Melatonin therapy has been investigated for its positive effect in autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, atopic dermatitis, type 1 diabetes mellitus and inflammatory bowel disease.

There are numerous scientific reports on the therapeutic potential of melatonin in the treatment of asthma, respiratory diseases for infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, as well as vascular pulmonary disease.

Oxidative stress is involved in the progression of nearly all chronic diseases. Melatonin has been suggested to reduce oxidative stress by its potential radical scavenging properties. A Sept 2020 meta-analysis indicated an association between melatonin intake and a significant increase in total antioxidant capacity. The conclusions of the researchers:

"Melatonin intake was shown to have a significant impact on improving Oxidative stress parameters. These findings have implications for the protective effects of melatonin against cardiac diseases induced by oxidative stress such as atherosclerosis.”

In an article published April 2017 in The International Journal of Molecular Sciences entitled, "Melatonin, a Full Service Anti-Cancer Agent," researchers reported: "There is highly credible evidence that melatonin mitigates cancer at the initiation, progression and metastasis phases...Another area that deserves additional consideration is related to the capacity of melatonin in reducing the toxic consequences of anti-cancer drugs while increasing their efficacy...melatonin should be used to improve the physical wellbeing of the patients." 

The studies found that melatonin reduces several side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

It is not surprising that research is finding that melatonin plays an important role in gastrointestinal (GI) functioning as 400 times more melatonin is secreted in the GI tract than in the pineal gland. Randomized clinical trials suggest its efficacy in treating functional dyspepsia, irritable bowel syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Several studies have emerged to suggest that melatonin plays a role in a variety of headache disorders, including migraine, cluster, and tension. It is well established that patients with chronic migraines have low levels of melatonin in their bodies. One study published in the journal Neurology found that a daily 3-mg dose of melatonin helped reduce the frequency of migraines by 50%.

For those individuals suffering from tinnitus (ringing in the ears) melatonin may be a promising treatment option.  A randomized, double-blind, crossover clinical trial found:

"Melatonin is associated with a statistically significant decrease in tinnitus intensity and improved sleep quality in patients with chronic tinnitus."

According to agricultural research studies, tart cherries are one of the highest natural food sources of melatonin. Other food sources include goji berries, almonds, walnuts, rice, peanuts and tomatoes.

Exciting new research is leading to the conclusion that melatonin could contribute to healthy aging and an extended lifespan.

Richard Goldberg graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Florida State University and a Masters/Ph.D. from Clayton College (Holistic Nutrition). He was Food Service Manager San Francisco County Jail as well as at Food Service Manager Skyline College. Richard previously was the owner of Garden of Life Natural Food Restaurant and has been a Nutritional Consultant for 35 year. Richard is currently working as a Nutritional Consultant at Felton Nutrition where he provides free nutritional consultations to members of our communities. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Press Banner.

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